Private school ‘surprised and disappointed’ at criticism of racism response
PUBLISHED: 16:44 20 July 2020 | UPDATED: 08:25 21 July 2020
Ex-pupils, who alleged widespread racist abuse at a Norfolk private school, have criticised the school’s response to the problem.
But the headmaster of Norwich School hit back on Monday.
In June, former and current students reported a string of racist incidents, dating from 2015 to the present day.
More than 250 people also signed a letter calling on the school to take action.
The school’s chairman of governors apologised at the time and said it was acting.
A meeting was also held on June 17 between three ex-pupils, who wrote the letter, and the school’s leadership. The school said a series of actions were agreed after that meeting.
Those reforms include forming a group of BAME pupils, ex-students, staff and parents to work with the school.
But the school said it was “surprised and disappointed” by the letter.
On Monday, headmaster Steffan Griffiths and chairman of governors Patrick Smith said: “We find it strange that an assumption has been made that the school is not taking the matter seriously.
“Our actions show that significant progress has been made quickly and in extraordinary circumstances.
“We believe they make our proactivity on these important issues clear and demonstrate our determination to improve.
“There is still much more to be achieved and the school will continue to consult widely as we bed in the changes being introduced for the benefit both of members of Norwich School and the wider community.
“We will not tolerate racism or other prejudicial behaviour that do not support the school’s ethos to help our pupils thrive and learn in a happy, secure environment.”
A total of 37 former and current pupils have detailed alleged racist abuse from 2010 to 2020.
One ex-teacher also reported their experience, claiming a group of pupils who were “well-known” for their racist views were tolerated.
They wrote: “Whenever I mentioned it, I was told it was being dealt with at housemaster level. It clearly wasn’t as the students felt embolden to continue with this behaviour until they left.”
Other incidents allegedly included a black pupil being told to “go die on a plantation”, the regular use of racial slurs, and pupils being told to “go back” to where they came from.
The school said it was taking action, including:
-Training for staff and senior pupils against prejudice
-Changes to the curriculum
-Recruiting an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Officer
-Establishing a BAME parental discussion group
-A review of recruitment practice
But on Monday, the ex-pupils wrote: “We have been dismissed and disregarded by Norwich School.
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“In our meeting, the existence of institutional racism at the school, evidenced clearly by numerous accounts of racism from past and present pupils, was disputed by the school as they had not been aware of it.
“We were also told that this matter would cause the school ‘significant reputational damage’.
“We are appalled that the school should think that damage to their reputation is even remotely relevant to the discussion on tackling racism.”
They added: “Norwich School’s communication with the wider community on this issue has been equally disappointing and dismissive of this issue.”
They cite a letter sent by Mr Griffiths to parents which said pupils from all backgrounds had a happy experience at the school and criticised the media for reporting the issue with a lack of balance.
But in Monday’s letter, the ex-pupils wrote: “Stating that other pupils at the school have had positive experiences does not negate the fact that BAME pupils have had to suffer racial abuse as a result of the school’s failings.”
The letter is also signed by Norwich South MP Clive Lewis.
The Labour politician said: “I very much hope the school immediately begins to implement the students’ demands without prevarication or conditions.”
After racism at the school was first reported by this newspaper in June, some parents defended the institution.
Linda Nnene, whose daughter Alice was made the new head of school in July, said: “Correcting racism is not about people jumping on some bandwagon.
“It is about admitting there is a problem and then working to undo it, like Norwich School.”
In their letter, the ex-pupils listed 10 reforms for the school to tackle racism.
-The hiring of a BAME specialised consultancy firm to bring in an anti-racist curriculum
-Overhaul of anti-bullying policy
-Forming a group of BAME students, alumni, staff and parents to work the school
-The re-evaluation of the Sixth Form International Programme
-Transparency in the school’s efforts to become an anti-racist institution.
-The formation of an Equalities Committee of governors to oversee the school’s policies against racism
-A student-led BAME society
-The addition of race-focused sessions and curricula developed and taught by external BAME organisations
-The implementation of various race-focused training programmes
-School funds spent on racial equality initiatives
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